Hell and Heaven are in the Hearts of Men
Ogon Ogawa, outside Shiro Matsu
Kichi watched the samurai woman dust the last bits of golden hair off her hands and run her fingers over her bare head, carefully avoiding the scabbed nicks in her scalp. He had been hiding in the earthen overhang for two hours and had been surprised and afraid when she appeared, kneeling by the slow-moving creek and began removing her hair.
Before, she looked like perhaps one of the fierce Matsu, save for the plain, dark brown haori and hakama. Now, she looked like a bald ronin, maybe a monk. He did not dare move or make a sound, held fixed by fear and reverence. He knew he did not completely understand what he was seeing, but he felt the gravity of it.
She looked at her reflection in the still pool at the edge of the water, then up at Lord Moon, drew in a deep breath, and gave the trees a heavyhearted smile.
Izakaya Tsuru no Ongaeshi
“Irasshaimase!” Mari bowed low to the ronin with the cold, far-off stare. She did her best to be cheerful, but the patron of this well-visited establishment would be cross to hear later that there had been such a dusty, scruffy looking bald woman taking up table space when there were plenty of well-paying members of the Great Clans who could sit there.
Mari kept an eye on the woman, expecting some kind of trouble. There were a few who tried being friendly but all they got from her was her name, Kokoro. Even in the throng of customers, this woman looked solitary. She quietly ate her meal and thanked the staff for their attentive service. As she left, Mari noted that despite it being Summer, the woman seemed to shivver for a moment before she stepped out into the street.
Kyo had replaced many doors in Kasume-sama’s dojo. Every year or so, a student would get particularly enthusiastic or simply clumsy and end up outside the classroom, rice paper and splinters clinging to their hair and practice uniform. It was early morning, Kyo heard birds still singing in the courtyard as he hefted the door into its place. Added to those sweet voices was also that of Kasume-sama and what must be that of the Ronin he had seen waiting outside when he arrived. Kokoro, as she had introduced herself, sounded gruff and tired, but doggedly determined to complete whatever task she had been recruited to. Kyo deftly navigated a route that took him just past the doors to the well-appointed garden on his way out of the dojo. He caught the barest glimpse of Kasume-sama handing a package to the woman whose head was bowed low before her and heard the familiar jingle of coin.
Aotane Onsen, Several leagues east of the Lion/Crane border
The rasping sound of wood scraping on wood woke Tomoe and she scrambled to grab a towel to offer to the woman entering the baths. It was late enough to be early and Tomoe had to turn her head to yawn several times as she filled the small barrels of water for the woman to wash herself with. She watched the dirty water drain away and gave the samurai a clean towel to place on her head in the bath. Strange, that this woman seemed to keep her back to Tomoe and stranger still, the newly-sprouted hair on her head, with small gaps where Tomoe could see scars. She had never seen such a peculiar samurai, even among the boisterous ronin that would visit this cheap, commingled, perpetually open onsen.
When the next person entered, an hour or so later, Tomoe heard a light splash behind her. As she went to grab another towel, she saw that the woman had submerged herself up to her chin in the mineral-clouded water. As the man, who was adorned with several tattoos, was washing himself in preparation for the hot spring, the woman emerged, holding the towel to her shoulder. The man turned his head and a look of surprise crossed his face.
The woman froze and, still covering her left shoulder, turned slowly, a fierce look in her eyes until she saw who was addressing her. Relief washed over her face and she bowed.
“I do not know that name, Tahir-san, I am Kokoro.” She looked directly into his eyes, adding, “And you did not see me here.”
With several heavy steps, the woman called Kokoro left Aotane Onsen, perhaps more unsettled than when she arrived.
Akodo Kagomi no Ka, Southeast of Shiro Matsu
Kankuro had been a member of Akodo Kagomi-sama’s household for as long as he could remember but never expected to witness samurai behave in such a way. He had hardly recognized the woman who arrived that rainy morning, carrying a small box wrapped in cloth which she insisted on delivering to Makoto-sama personally despite being told repeatedly that the lady was indisposed.
“Let her know I am here with a package from… someone very important to her.” She looked very tired.
“Hai, Sama.” Kankuro reported the news to Kagomi-sama and was sent to Makoto-sama, keeping his eyes to the floor but unable to competely block out the sniffling coming from the room where she had shut herself up for the last few weeks.
When Makoto-sama had set herself properly in the receiving room, the woman was allowed in with her package.
“Akodo Makoto-sama, this letter and package are from your mother, Kakita Kasume-sama,” she said once she had knelt and bowed her head.
Makoto-sama’s face brightened momentarily and she motioned for the parcel to be brought to her.
Yamahime-sama had, for the moment, escaped from her care-taker’s arms and was crawling toward the woman on the floor. From his spot on the left side of the room, Kankuro could see the woman lift her eyes to the child and smile.
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